By Abby Hoover
The inaugural National Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Day of Service brought volunteers to two new construction homes in the historic Lykins Neighborhood with Habitat for Humanity’s Veterans Build program on May 7.
The Veterans Build Program provides homeownership, home repair, education, employment and volunteer opportunities to U.S. veterans, military service members and their families. Habitat KC works to connect veteran volunteers with their community to help bridge the gap and ease the transition to civilian life with fulfilling community engagement.
“Many of us are military, we headed off to the military service as young people, and some of us got a little broken along the way, but when we come back home, we’re still serving,” VFW Quartermaster General Marc Garduno said of the volunteers. “I’m super excited about being out here. A veteran service organization, that’s it right there: service. It’s about service.”
Garduno served in the Army from 1987 to 2008. In his role as Quartermaster General, he manages the funds of the national organization, all financial aspects and investments, and properties. Over the past 13 years, he’s stayed involved with the VFW and other veterans.
“We always naturally seek each other out because we have that common bond, that camaraderie, and so we get along well with each other,” Garduno said. “But more than that, it’s about continuing to serve the community. Veterans stay engaged in their community, even after service, to do whatever they can to serve and to help one another, make the community stronger.”
The national headquarters for the VFW is based in Kansas City, so employees of the national organization joined members from local posts throughout the metro to tackle the project on the first sunny day all week. VFW members across the nation chose a variety of different service projects.
More than a dozen Kansas City area VFW members painted the exteriors of the two houses in progress on Sixth Street in Lykins, worked on insulation and caulking inside, and more. The homes, which will soon be inhabited by new owners, are nearing completion.
Menga and Fatuma Ebumbe, who immigrated to the United States in 2016, will soon move into one of the homes. Menga stopped by on Saturday to see the progress on their future home. With nine kids, he is excited to have the opportunity to own a home of their own in the neighborhood where they already live. Right now, they’re renting a place that’s too expensive and too small for their large family.
“I’m looking forward to moving into our new home as soon as possible,” Menga shared with Habitat for Humanity. “I will first thank God for blessing us with a home and thank everyone at Habitat KC for having a good heart and choosing us. This has changed more than just our address; it has changed our lives.”
Site Supervisor Emma Piazza said three Habitat houses are under construction in Lykins right now, two nearing completion and one still in the foundation stage. Habitat completed the first new build Lykins had seen in decades last October, and will continue to build infill housing in partnership with the Lykins Neighborhood association.
“It’s a beautiful day – we got really lucky with the weather, I was afraid it was going to rain all week but it’s really great – and it’s so fun, especially because we’re painting today, so that’s exciting because the volunteers get to see a lot of progress moving along,” Piazza said. “It feels like they’re really doing something and being productive, which is great. You get to see the transformation of the house from the morning to the afternoon.”
The VFW Day of Service brings together veterans and their communities to conduct service projects throughout the month of May, honoring throughout the month Military Spouses Appreciation Day, Armed Forces Day and Memorial Day. The VFW started the Day of Service to highlight the vital role veterans play in the well-being of their communities.
The event is an outgrowth of the organization’s #StillServing campaign launched in 2020 to recognize the ongoing dedication of veterans and service members who continue to serve their communities. VFW Day of Service, led by veterans and in concert with other organizations and civic groups, is open for anyone to participate.
“The positive feedback from veterans and the communities they serve tells us the stage is set to expand the #StillServing initiative,” said Fritz Mihelcic, VFW national commander. “We have already seen how the campaign amplifies the volunteer efforts and camaraderie of America’s veterans. The time is now to take its visibility to the next level.”
Veterans are more likely than civilians to volunteer in their communities, according to a recent civic health survey of veterans. The same study showed veterans donate to charities, register to vote, and are involved in their communities and local government at a greater rate than their civilian counterparts.
“We are calling on veterans across America and around the world to join us in the VFW Day of Service to show that we never stop serving,” Mihelcic said.
The VFW urges its members and all veterans to visit VFWDayofService.org to register their event on the interactive Day of Service map and receive a special participation decal, or find a local event to join and see what other veterans around the country are doing to make a difference.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. is the nation’s largest and oldest major war veterans’ organization. Founded in 1899, the congressionally chartered VFW is comprised entirely of eligible veterans and military service members from the Active, Guard and Reserve forces, with more than 1.5 million VFW and Auxiliary members located in over 6,000 Posts worldwide.